Training and Behavior
The Best Trainer: How to find the right instructor for you and your dog.
M. Christine Zink, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Even the most experienced dog trainers eventually want a second set of eyes because it’s sometimes hard to be objective about your own dog. For sports like obedience and agility, it might be impossible for you to know how to fix a problem because you can’t see the cues you give your dog. Find backup from the thousands of instructors available. Some have formal training and degrees; some have years of experience competing. Here are some guidelines to help you find the best instructor for you and your dog.
1 Choose an instructor who uses positive reinforcement.
A University of Pennsylvania study showed that dogs trained using force or dominance methods were more likely to become aggressive toward their owners (Herron, et al. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2009; 117 [1-2]: 47). Dogs trained with force comply because they are afraid not to. Good training strengthens your relationship with your dog, and it should not be based on fear. Positive-reinforcement trainers use treats or toys to reward the dog for good behavior and withhold the reward when the dog is incorrect. Many instructors who use positive reinforcement use operant conditioning, or clicker training, to teach the dog to think independently and offer behaviors on its own.
2 Select an instructor who has worked with a variety of breeds and types of dogs.
It is important that your instructor can adapt to different breeds’ and individual dogs’ personalities. Some dogs must be encouraged and rewarded for small attempts at the desired behavior. Other more confident dogs tolerate our own mistakes as we try to improve our training skills. Your instructor should recognize when a dog needs some hand-holding and not try to push the dog past its limits.
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